To the buzz of many headlines and minutes of TV coverage, New York’s Al Sharpton, 59, announced last June that he planned to land in Chicago and focus national attention on our horrific problem of gang violence. He explained that he would rent an apartment on the West Side, in the manner of Martin Luther King, circa 1966, who rented a dilapidated apartment in Lawndale. While here, several days a week, he would broadcast his shows—MSNBC’s daily Politics Nation and the nationally syndicated radio show, “Keepin it Real”—from Chicago,
That was 10 months ago when he promised to work on the ground with church and community leaders. His start date was to be September 2013 and he’d collaborate closely with the Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin. In 2012 the church’s West Side location had the dubious distinction of being among those neighborhoods with the highest homicide rate.
Sharpton’s now back in the news, but not for his move. The Smoking Gun has a detailed report on his life in the 1980s as a FBI mob informant on such families as the Genoveses and the Gambinos. The New York tabs ate up and spit out the news; the Post’s front page blared “Rev Rat.” (Sharpton took issue with that headline at a news conference Tuesday: “I was not and am not a rat because I wasn’t with the rats. I’m a cat.”)
Not only that, Sharpton’s friend Barack Obama is heading to New York on Friday to keynote the civil rights activist’s Harlem-headquartered (the “House of Justice”) National Action Network convention. Sharpton is the group’s founder and president; other name speakers at the annual meeting include Bill de Blasio, Charles Ogletree, Eric Holder, and Arne Duncan.
Once reviled as the velour track-suited charlatan behind Tawana Brawley, Freddy’s Fashion Mart, etc., Sharpton’s now a bespoke-suited guest at Obama state dinners, on the dais at Obama’s swearing in, in a chair in the Oval Office, and in attendance at White House Super Bowl parties.
What about Chicago? Sharpton has had a toddler-sized footprint.
Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell quoted Sharpton as proclaiming last July, "I am taking an apartment to put a spotlight on gun violence. Although voting rights and other things exist, our challenge inside is gun violence and putting the focus on ourselves." Sharpton promised that, come September, he would “bring his MSNBC show to Chicago two or three times a week and interview people in the community. He also said he would get up in the morning to walk children to school.”
September gave way to October. On October 20, 2013 the AP reported that Sharpton, in a press conference in South Austin, “never gave many details about exactly what he would be doing and plans were repeatedly delayed.” At a news conference that day, Sharpton said that he would rent an apartment from another supporter, the Rev. Dr. Marshall Elijah Hatch, Sr., pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, located in West Garfield Park on the city’s West Side. His “two or three” days a week gave way to “two days a week.”
On November 10, the Chicago Tribune’s Dahlen Glanton reported that Sharpton was renting a two-bedroom apartment in West Garfield Park—$1,200-a-month rent—and would spend one night a week for the next three months in Chicago. As Mary Mitchell wrote, “unlike the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s move to a slum building in 1966 to put the spotlight on Chicago’s poverty and segregation, Sharpton isn’t roughing it. The six-unit building is on historic Washington Boulevard and it’s part of the housing constructed and renovated by Pilgrim Development Corp. Many of Sharpton’s neighbors are members at [Ira Acree’s] the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, the entity that runs the nonprofit development corporation.”
A cynical person might think that Sharpton was looking to time the drama of his Chicago presence with the publication of his book, The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership, published in October 2013.
My email to Rev. Sharpton sent Monday via his spokesman Jacky Johnson went unanswered. A followup email brought the following: “We are starting our convention tomorrow and Rev. Sharpton is not able to do other interviews at the moment. Could you follow up with me next week?” (I’ll do that and will add to this post any response.) Among several questions I asked Johnson in that email is “When does he plan to next be in Chicago and what does he have on his agenda for that trip?”
Sharpton’s friend and supporter—and my own congressman—Danny Davis, who never fails to call me back, did not respond to my message about Sharpton left with Davis’s scheduler in Washington.
Calls to the Rev. Hatch and to the Rev. Acree, both publicly supporting Sharpton in his Chicago plans, were not returned.
Mitchell who covered Sharpton’s Chicago plans in three excellent columns, answered my question about Sharpton in an email yesterday. “As far as I know Al Sharpton is back in New York. I'm pretty sure he is no longer renting the West Side apartment, but you should confirm that with the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church.” (Interesting side note: Hatch is one of a handful of black pastors who has endorsed Republican Bruce Rauner in the race for governor.)
In the meantime, as I write this, comes the Tribune headline: “14 shot, one fatally, since 8 p.m., including 6 at West Side party.”